As teaching moves further into the 21st century it continues to evolve and change. In order to design lessons with measurable results, teachers need to shift their thinking. Collaboration, along with the integration of content and technology, are the trends that now drive most planning sessions. One useful method for planning meaningful lessons is backwards design. With it, teachers can integrate subject matter with technology and critical thinking activities. The idea behind backwards design is to teach and plan towards the “end goal” or learning point.
The premise of backwards design is simple: planning starts with the focus on the end product. As educators, we cannot decide which materials or methods to utilise during instruction until we have pinpointed specific concepts and skills we want our students to learn. By focusing on the required end result, Backwards design allows the educator to address what the student needs to learn and what data can be collected to show that the “end goal” has been achieved, while thinking about how to ensure students learn effectively.
The process is logical – if teachers focus on the desired learning then the appropriate teaching methods will follow. With backwards design, teachers shift their thinking from a content-focused design to a result-focused approach. In this way, the integration of different subject matter and the use of technology becomes organic in the design of the unit. Backwards design focuses on the destination and then plans the route, rather than the other way around.
There are three stages to the process of backwards design:
- Identify the desired results
- Identify evidence of learning
- Design the instructional plan
Stage 1 – Identify Desired Results
The teacher begins by reviewing the learning standards that students are expected to meet by the end of a course or grade level. The idea is then to create a cross-curricular unit that provides students with meaningful learning opportunities, enhancing their understanding of each topic and the use of technology within both realms. The teacher must first identify the priorities within both subjects, selecting those enduring concepts that need to be attained for the long term.
The next step is to put together a list of the essential knowledge, skills, and concepts that students need to learn during a specific unit. Using this information, the teacher can then create a final assessment, which can be used to measure to what degree students are achieving the desired results.
Stage 2 – Evidence of Learning
In this stage, the teacher asks the question, “How do I know if students have achieved the desired results?” The key is to think as an assessor would and look for meaningful ways to evaluate student achievement. The focus is less on content coverage and more on higher level thinking skills and practical application. Using this approach, the teacher can assess student learning through formative assessments, such as one-on-one interviews, short quizzes, peer evaluation, and individual reflection.
Advocates for backwards design argue that formative assessment is extremely important to effective backward design because teachers need to know what students are or are not learning if they are going to help them achieve the goals of a unit.
Stage 3 – Designing the Content for Instruction
With clear results and methods of assessing understanding in place, the teacher can now tailor the instructional strategies to help students attain new understandings of the content. Also having done backwards design, the teacher isn’t bound by the traditional textbook and can pull together different resources, such as Kognity, which does the task for you and presents the information in a better format.
At this stage, a teacher should consider some of the following key questions:
- What key facts and concepts will students need to understand to achieve the desired results?
- What key skills will students need in order to perform and achieve the desired results?
As teachers, you want students to learn skills that can equate to great academic results, but that can also be applied in later life. This means that as teachers, we need to focus on content but also on its practical application. Backwards design along with the use of technology within the classroom should be considered as a method for designing and analysing meaningful learning tasks that can help make this happen.
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